Family Relationships Inventory

Family Life

Need to take stock of your family relationships inventory this holiday season? Here’s some questions you should ask.

Christmas vacation is a golden opportunity for visiting our family relationships and checking out how they’re going. Does one relationship need a little fix-up, some repairs? Is a full-scale reno indicated in another? Let’s hope it’s not a tear-down!

Why ask these questions?

You know how stores, even the really big ones, used to sometimes have a sign out that they were closed for inventory? I always wondered about that, like what could be so important that they don’t want to take my money? The answer, of course, is that before you can go forward smoothly, it’s pretty important to have a clear and specific sense of what you have in stock. Nowadays inventory control is computerized and hence invisible to the consumer; they no longer need to close or even stay late to count anything. But they’re paying money for snazzy software that supports inventory control – because you can’t run a successful business – any successful business that deals in stuff – if you don’t know how much of which thing you’ve got.

Relationships have similar needs. To most of us, our family relationships are our most important connections in life, which suggests we’d want to take the best care of them. We’d thus need to know how much emotional credit (or debit) we’re running in each of our family relationships. Emotional credit and debit work just like the financial kind: When we have a lot of credit in a relationship, things are going well, both parties feel supported and cared for, lots has been put in and not too much taken out. When we make a withdrawal, or debit, in a relationship, (by absenting ourselves, or being unkind or inattentive) we’d better have the credit to support it or we risk going into overdraft. Emotional overdraft hurts at least one person.

A family relationships inventory lets you see how your debit/credit ratio is with various family members; you can then choose to beef up inventory where it’s down. That would involve repairing relationships. Sometimes apologies are required. I often find crow a good dish to eat when trying to heal an ailing relationship. Usually this project requires putting in really good, undistracted time with that person. And please remember: It’s tough to build up emotional credit if you’re on your iPhone.

But do your Family Relationships Inventory first. About once a year I take inventory of my family relationships, to see what we need more – or less – of. It’s pretty interesting to uncover that info. I do this privately, on my own. It can be interesting to do it on paper, hide the paper away in a private place and look at it every few months to measure the present against the recent past, and maybe set some new goals going forward.

So what questions do you ask on a Family Relationships Inventory? Try these, for each of your relationships in your family:

  1. What’s the best thing about this relationship?
  2. What’s the worst thing about this relationship?
  3. What have I been doing lately to build up emotional credit with this person?
  4. What have I been doing lately to build up emotional debit with this person?
  5. If one thing about this relationship needs to change, what would it be?
  6. How to do that?

And why am I asking you to do this inventory now? What better time? Christmas is family time. When better than vacation to assess our family relationships and put some “money in the bank?”

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Joanne Kates

About Joanne Kates

Since 1989 Joanne Kates has been Director of Camp Arowhon, a residential children’s summer camp in Algonquin Park, Ontario. Camp Arowhon has been home away from home for children since 1934; under Joanne’s leadership it is celebrated for pioneering achievements in creating social safety for children. Joanne developed the Camp Arowhon Social Safety Tool Kit, which includes anti-bullying prevention and intervention strategies that have made Arowhon a haven from bullying and girl cliques. Joanne speaks on parenting at schools snd community organizations. Her writing on parenting appears in The Globe and Mail and Post City Magazines.

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